Avoid Common Mistakes

Hiking and camping entail so many individual pieces and details that it can be easy to overlook one or two, especially if you’re a beginner. Good news is these details will become second nature over time. However, the majority of newcomers to the trail will commit a handful of common mistakes when they hit the woods—and some before they even set foot on the trail—so today I’ve outlined a few of the most popular, in order to help you stay ahead of the curve.

Pre-trip preparation, or the lack thereof, can really set you up for success of disaster. It is for this reason that you should always meticulously check each detail of your planned route, as well as your gear.

A common error during the stage of the process is failing to check the weather forecast. Backcountry weather can be quite different from that in the frontcountry, so it’s smart to contact rangers in the area where you’ll be hiking for a specific weather report. While you have them on the phone, I would also take the opportunity to check on trail conditions, especially if precipitation has been heavy.

When packing, try to employ the “Santa Clause” mentality by making a list and checking it twice. Amidst a sea of a hundred different details, it can be easy to overlook key items, such as a sleeping pad or spare socks, so be sure to take your time during the packing process and make sure you have everything you’ll need. In that same regard, it’s common for new hikers to overpack. I know it’s tempting, but resist the urge to bring a ton of extra clothes and extra fuel, or completely unnecessary items like deodorant, makeup, or skewers for hot dogs or marshmallows. There are, however, items that you have in spares, like batteries for flashlights and headlamps, as well as waterproof matches.

On the trail, there are several mistakes that beginners commit. For instance, it’s easy to look at distance or a map and completely overestimate your pace and how many miles you can cover in a day. Most casual hikers—and even some more experienced ones—will average around 2 mph or less, but you should also add roughly half an hour to your time for every elevation gain of 1000 feet. Taking this into consideration will give you a more accurate idea of how much ground you can cover. I know it’s tempting, but don’t take shortcuts. Doing so increases the odds of getting lost, especially if you’re inexperienced or hiking unfamiliar territory. Also, when hiking in a group, prevent separation by making sure slower hikers don’t fall too far behind, or faster individuals don’t get too far ahead. You should really only be moving as fast as your slowest member, so keep them in front and try to stop at trail junctions to get your bearings and allow people to rest.

The mistakes outlined above are quite common among newcomers to the trail, and can lead to a rough time if you don’t take measures to avoid them. Like I said earlier, with so many details to cover, it can be easy to overlook a few things here and there, but taking the time to be attentive to those details will make doing so in the future second nature.